Land Restoration and Carbon Sequestration for Improved Resilience and Livelihoods
The EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and recent (EEA) research depict that up to 80% of the European biodiversity is in poor condition, and that less than 30% of the rivers can be regarded as “living” and healthy. Melting permafrost and glaciers, unusual high temperatures in (sub-arctic) zones and degrading peatlands and wetlands provide additional challenges.
Unsustainable agricultural practices, ecosystem fragmentation and biodiversity loss, amplified by global warming, have led to a decline in ecosystem health and widespread land degradation across Europe.
The Restore Europe programme addresses these challenges through a blueprint for a merits-based collaborative approach to land restoration on a continental scale.
Key in this will be the establishment of a vast network of eco-corridors across Europe, from tens of thousands of kilometres connected free-flowing river systems and links between the mountain ranges of Europe, to millions of hectares of newly connecting parks and (urban) forests, peatlands and wetlands, regenerative agriculture and agroforestry that once more play a key role in restoring biodiversity, water retention and carbon storage.
Restoring the health and productivity of degraded farmland, nature and forests across Europe
The TNF partnership vision is to restore biodiversity and degraded agricultural, pastoral and wetlands, as well as rivers, mountain ranges and forests in Europe.
Through nature-based approaches – such as TNF’s assisted natural regeneration through extensive grazing, agroforestry, regenerative agriculture, and other nature-based solutions – degraded lands can be rapidly restored through the efforts of farmers, pastoralists, and local communities.
This approach leads to regenerated natural systems alongside more productive, profitable, and resilient landscapes and agricultural systems, providing small-scale farmers and rural communities with improved and diversified livelihoods with a smaller ecological footprint.
TNF and their partners are working with a multitude of stakeholders and local communities throughout Europe on designing programs for nature restoration in mountainous areas, wetlands, riverscapes and dry steppes, building on fragmented efforts to deliver impact through nature-based networks and inclusive, enduring partnerships.
Through this integrated approach, Restore Europe will focus on strengthening existing nature and landscape networks, and establishing new eco-corridor networks across the continent – restoring free-flowing river systems, re-establishing climate resilient community landscapes, connecting urban greens to the great outdoors, as well as restoring peatlands and (coastal) wetlands through rewetting, and ancient farmland.
Biodiversity is fundamental to both planet and people. It provides us with clean air and water, food, and medicines. But biodiversity is in crisis.
European population growth coincides with loss of biodiversity, but also with urbanisation leading to fragmentation, abandonment of rural areas alongside loss of large grazers. This has cascading ecological impacts, including shrub encroachment, habitat loss, invasive species, and fires.
Changes in climate, such as drying in southern and inland regions, and increased precipitation in other areas are predicted to intensify, threatening ecosystem services, and rural livelihoods. Decades of poor and inappropriate land management, reducing living river systems and freshwater availability through river “improvement”, and unsustainable agricultural systems and exploitation are at the core of the causes.
While considerable success has been achieved across a variety of European landscapes in restoring degraded lands, these efforts have generally been fragmented, isolated, and at limited scales. This is significantly due to competition for funding and lack of cooperation between rural stakeholders.
Natural solutions at climate-addressing scale
TNF and their partners are providing nature-based solutions to rapidly address biodiversity loss and land degradation at a continentally significant scale.
Rewilding is a pro-active form of ecological restoration that has significant potential to increase biodiversity, create self-regulating environments and mitigate climate change. Examples are rewetting peatlands, restoring vast stretches of river through dam removal and floodplain regeneration, or reintroducing lost animal species to natural environments.
The restoration of degraded landscapes and nature areas through extensive grazing, agroforestry, and other types of regenerative farming will not only improve soil fertility, water availability and control erosion. It will also improve the liveability of communities, also through alternative income sources (such as tourism), and increase the resilience of communities to shocks as drought and food shortages, and help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Restore Europe will empower communities and farmers to own, fine-tune, and self-invest in restorative practices to capture over 500 million tons CO2eq/y on 50 million hectares of land under restoration over 5 years.
Results so far
Awareness, restoration, and the EU Green Deal
Public awareness on Europe’s degrading resources and the need for climate action is growing throughout the EU and the rest of Europe.
Following polls and recent climate and biodiversity reports, along with drought, fire and flood crises across the globe and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, there has been a widespread public rethinking of the key values.
Increasingly, the focus tends to be on the local environment, nature and sense of community.
However, though EU policies such as the Green Deal and (rather national, pilot) projects in this field have been initiated, political action is still lagging.
Across Europe, there are examples of successful pilots and networks promoting nature restoration, sustainable water management, agroforestry, sustainable grazing, and conservation farming, with support of the scientific community but also local communities, NGOs, and individual landowners across the continent.
If there is a willingness to move away from ‘business as usual’, not only in EU- and national policy but also within the sectors, evidence-based scalable solutions are available to restore land and store carbon.
Achieving the solution to Restore Europe
Land degradation and biodiversity loss leads to a loss in natural resources, environmental health, and agricultural productivity, with significant social and economic costs.
The Restore Europe Programme will improve livelihoods, food security and resilience to climate change, and reduce or store an additional 500 million tons CO2eq/year by restoring degraded ecosystems and through engaging farmers, communities, and other stakeholders to directly address the common barriers identified to building resilience, providing hands-on solutions, funding schemes and initial restoration projects.
Restore Europe is set to deliver:
- 10 million hectares of rewetted and restored peatlands, taking on up to 50% or more of the targeted 500 million tons of carbon/year (after realisation)
- 10 million hectares of eco-corridor networks, connecting primal natural habitats and river systems, with urban parklands, forests, and farmlands
- 10 million hectares of mountain habitats and (arctic) permafrost zones, to restore and enlarge existing nature parks and creating buffer zones
- 25,000 km of free-flowing rivers and its floodplains across the continent, covering for some 5–10 million hectares of riverside corridors
- 10 million hectares of farm and rangeland through regenerative agriculture and agro-forestry
Key advantages of the Restore Europe Programme
- Increased sequestration and/or reduced emissions through restored peatlands, river systems, forests and other habitats, vegetation on farms, grazing and other measures, creating natural climate buffers with increased mitigating capacity
- Increased adaptation and resilience of rural communities, water/river systems, nature zones and farming systems to the impacts of unpredictable seasons and more severe weather events
- Restored habitat and ecosystem integrity at the landscape and/or river basin level providing a sustainable, dynamic environment supporting native flora and fauna
- Enhanced on-farm biodiversity through increased ecosystem services from bees, birds, insects, and wildlife
- Protect rare and ecologically valuable species through targeted nature-based solutions and landscape approaches
Community and agriculture
- Strengthened community management capacity through participatory approaches for sustaining natural resources and creating new jobs for youth (halting brain drain)
- Increased sustainability of agriculture towards regenerative and organic, meeting demands, while observing a landscape approach, restoring and defragmenting ecological connectivity
- Improved (mental) health and wellbeing of both residents and tourists/visitors, through targeted restoring of the natural environment and targeted emotional resilience activities
- Reduced land tenure insecurity and reduced risk of displacement, also through improved climate resilience of the natural environment, creating new nature-based business models
- Improved landholder decision-making capacity and strengthened farmer associations for greater impact at district and regional levels
What the Ark2030 funding will provide
The Restore Europe programme will restore more than 50 million hectares of degraded land, storing at least an additional 500 million tons CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) during the estimated 5 years of programme implementation, and magnitudes more in subsequent years.
This project is 100% financed through a pay-for-performance model where every hectare of degraded farmland, nature and forests restored and every ton of CO2e stored in the landscape produces Ark Points, being leveraged to expand the programme. Scaling and speeding-up from initial pilot areas and projects is achieved through implementing EU and national funding schemes on crucial infrastructures, research and new approaches, linking the individual (bottom-up) approaches into a vast and resilient, Europe-wide network.
Measuring and monitoring success
Programme monitoring will be enhanced through a cloud-based platform that combines detailed geospatial field data with drone and high-resolution satellite imagery analysis, to accurately track progress, impact and carbon sequestration in near real-time. The platform provides a tool for decision-making, tracking the programme’s contribution towards global targets on restoration (biodiversity) and climate change, alongside community aspects and other SDGs.
In addition, the programme will generate verified carbon credits using the most contextually appropriate Standards and following the EU guidelines, the Gold Standard’s ‘Verified Emissions Reductions’, the ONCRA model or VERs.
Restore Europe Programme regions and project locations
Indicative locations for first/indicative/pilot projects, apart from the larger ecological and river corridors foreseen, both together being the backbone of Restore Europe.
Copyright: Wietse Hermanns, Arend de Haas